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Jews Queers Germans: A Novel/History Paperback – March 7, 2017
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"Riveting. Stunning. By turns exhilarating and harrowing. At the height of his imaginative and interpretive powers, award-winning author Martin Duberman elaborates the rich, complex promises and perils of German life and politics in advance of World Wars I and II, with ghostly echoes reverberating across the Atlantic to this very day." —John Howard, author of White Sepulchres and Men Like That
"With a bold, grand vision and an unparalleled grasp of the endless details that make up the arc of history, Martin Duberman elucidates and illuminates how sex, art, hatred, violence, and intrigue shape a national politic. His sprawling canvas here—populated by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Isadora Duncan, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Ernst Röhm among many others—is late nineteenth century to pre–World War II Germany. The implications and resonances of this story are, however, frighteningly contemporary. Sweeping and poetic, minutely observed and realistic, Jews Queers Germans is a brilliant window to the past that shows us the present and possibly the future." —Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States and Professor of Practice in Media and Activism at Harvard University
“In the new and daring novel/history Jews Queers Germans, Martin Duberman unleashes his awesome powers to tell a story of friendship, friction, and the flourishing of homosexual relationships during the belle époque. Focusing on Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and his closest friends, Duberman’s creative narrative allows us to eavesdrop on some of what might have been their private conversations while we also witness rising public intolerance toward Jews and queers in Germany. As always, Duberman engages and illuminates the past brilliantly while providing guidance for the present.” —Marcia M. Gallo, author of “No One Helped”: Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy
About the Author
Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, CUNY. MARTIN DUBERMAN is the author of some two dozen books, including Paul Robeson; Cures; Black Mountain; the novel Haymarket (a Seven Stories book); Howard Zinn; Stonewall; and Hold Tight Gently. Duberman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award (for his play In White America), three Lambda Literary Awards, a Special Award from The National Academy of Arts and Letters for his "contributions to literature," the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Historical Association, and the Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award in Non-Fiction. He has also been a Finalist for both the National Book Award (for James Russell Lowell) and the Pulitzer Prize (for The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein). In 2012 Amherst College awarded him an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
Top customer reviews
I repeat, excellent. 5 stars.
While there many have been problems with the ebook downloading, this should in no way detract from the high quality of the book itself.
World War I was a turning point for German politics and society as its unsuccessful (for Imperial Germany) ending brought the old order crashing down and opened the door to economic and political chaos, a period of cultural opens and finally, the advent of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Author Duberman tells this story in great detail through the eyes of Harry Kessler and his contemporaries in a way that brings to mind the current turn to economic nationalism in several European countries as well as the U.S. The US vs. THEM equation is populated by different parties now, but the prejudices are voiced in the same way. This is book to reflect on seriously as it accurately measures the basics of human behavior in many ways.
The main protagonists in the book are Count Harry Kessler, an aristocratic German art collector, homosexual, and diarist; Walter Rathenau, a Jewish industrialist with a highly cryptic personality; and Magnus Hirschfeld, a doctor, Jew, and homosexual once famous for his leading role as a sex researcher and opponent of Paragraph 175, the law criminalizing sodomy. Two other important bookend characters are Kaiser Wilhelm in the opening of the novel and Ernst Rohm towards the end. Other once-famous names like journalist Max Harden and Kaiser Wilhelm's friend Prince von Euelenburg make walk-on appearances.
One of the horrors of the book comes when Hirschfeld states that "the understanding that matters of 'morality' and 'perversion' are neither universal nor unchanging but instead reflect the cultural context of a given time and place -- teaching . . . in sum, that 'morality' is little more than custom" (256) is put to the test.
Hirschfeld's view is the summit of progressive liberal scientific thinking. But in the society in which he lives (and which he ultimately must flee for his life), "custom" and "morality" change violently and seemingly almost out of nowhere. As Duberman points out, the two far right terrorists who murder Rathenau in the mid-1920s and are killed in a shoot-out with the cops are later fulsomely praised by the Nazis as "martyrs."
The book's power derives from the final section with the rise of Nazism and the destruction of the basic liberal upper class (Kessler) and upper middle class (Hirschfeld) ideas of progress that evaporate almost over night. Marx's notion that "all that is solid melts into the air" came true with a vengeance in 1933 with a hail of bullets and to the delight of large sections of the German population. It's the Gotterdamerung of the upper middle class good guys and their naive take on Germany's crisis. (Kessler, for example, blithely agrees to speak at the University of Munich even after Einstein had canceled a lecture following student anti-Jewish demonstrations; Rathenau refuses police protection as undignified.)
While the final section of the book gives it true power, the story does lag in the middle sections primarily because too much of it is a dialog Kessler has with Rathenau. Kessler seems to have known everyone in European art and culture; he's a smart collector with a sharp eye rather than an innovative thinker. Ascona seems a million miles away. Kessler is basically a conventional man of his times (indeed he's an officer in World War I) who happens to be gay.
But the real problem is less with Kessler than with Rathenau, a sphinx without an interesting riddle. Kessler's conversations with Rathenau muddle along as Rathenau's pronouncements grow more Delphic in delivery and contradictory (and even absurd) in content. Like Oakland, there's no there there in Rathenau, at least in Duberman's telling. Here the book drags and not in a fun way. Compare this to the crackle and pop of Hirschfeld's (presumably invented) conversation with Ernst Rohm, the head of Hitler's SA, a really riveting read and when the book fully comes alive.
Finally one has to deal with Duberman's mix of invention and fact. It's both a shame and a surprise that he does not at least include a bibliography or an essay at the end discussing just how he mixed both genres. Presumably the book has a website and -- at a minimum -- Duberman could at least provide a brief bibliography as opposed to just listing names of authors in the acknowledgements.
Those reservations aside, Jews Queers Germans is well worth reading. Duberman decided not to use commas in his title and the mash up of identities he explores is at the heart of this innovative and scary book.